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A confused, but enjoyable attempt
on 18 July 2010
De Botton's book was enjoyable to read, though I never really found any resolution to the questions he posed. Sometimes, he seems to contradict himself. Throughout the beginning of the book, de Botton champions many elements of Classical architecture (in the process castigates--deservedly in my opinion--Le Courbusier's architecture and methods, pp. 54-67). Later in the book, de Botton tells the reader what structures are "successful": terribly modern edifices are praised which seems counter-intuitive based on the first half of the book. On p. 199, "Like Kahn's Yale Center, Herzog and de Meuron's house achieves its effect by weaving a pattern of beauty from two aesthetic strands-meaning, also, two varieties of happiness..." He tells us that we admire bridges as "a certain kind of beauty is bound up with our admiration for strength, for man-made objects which can withstand the life-destroying forces of heat, cold, gravity or wind...we see beauty in sea defences that shrug off the waves which batter them, and in bolts, rivets, cables, beams and buttresses...(p. 204).
De Botton's work was interesting until p. 166 when he writes about psychological mechanisms and our appreciation of architecture. The train quickly derails and many untenable claims are made. I expected a bit more from a trained philosopher (he holds a Master's Degree in Philosophy, as I understand). I wonder why de Botton decided to confront this topic with a superficial knowledge of architecture; he relies on meandering philosophical arguments to explain what beauty is (though the arguments are wholly unconvincing and certainly not logical). Most of the claims are based on appeals to the reader's emotions. The book is 267 pages of text, much of which is simple prose (though entertaining at times).
Overall the effort is interesting at best, dilettantish at worst.